The Holocaust, 1941-1945
Episode #5 of the course “Most Important Historical Events of the 20th Century”
The word “Holocaust” has Greek origins: “holo” means “whole,” and “kaustos” means “burned.” The word was typically used to describe the burning of a sacrifice upon an altar, but it has taken on so many more horrible meanings since the 1940s. In the Holocaust, the German Nazi regime killed roughly 6 million Jewish people, as well as members of some other persecuted groups like homosexuals and gypsies.
Adolf Hitler, the ruler of the German Nazi regime, termed the persecution the “final solution.” He thought that the Jews threatened the purity of the German race—that they were, on the whole, an inferior race. His “final solution” was the killing and imprisonment of millions of people in concentration camps that were constructed in Poland. His anti-Semitic feelings had more to do with the people as a race than their specific religious practices. He believed that the Jews were the reason that the Germans fell in World War I, but his major motivation for the Holocaust was based on racial purity. His theories also included the notion that exterminating the Jewish people would allow the German race more room to expand (by increasing “Lebensraum,” or living space).
Concentration camps were set up as early as 1933, but they usually housed known Communists, and their numbers were much smaller. The height of the Holocaust was during 1941 to 1945. They began to kill massive numbers of people using gas in 1942 starting with the sick, old, weak, and very young, who were considered the least useful. Once they began, roughly 12,000 people were killed each day until the summer of 1944, when it became clear that Germany was losing the war. Even after German defeat, they refused to give in and simply evacuated the camps, marching their “campers” until the German surrender. These “death marches” resulted in another 250,000 to 375,000 casualties.
Even in his last will, Hitler blamed the war on the “international Jewry and its helpers” and encouraged his followers to work toward racial purity. He committed suicide the following day. The horrible treatment of the Jewish people ultimately led to the creation of the Israeli state in 1948.
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